Maribel Vazquez, Sc.D.
City College of New York
“Microfluidics-Enhanced Predictive Models for Retinal Cell Replacement”
Progressive and irreversible vision loss affects millions of Americans each year and is a profound health challenge worldwide. Current restorative treatments for retinal dysfunction have introduced stem-like cells (STLCs) as replacements for damaged photoreceptors to re-establish synaptic connectivity with secondary neurons. Numerous studies have reported modest synaptic integration despite meaningful advances in specialized replacement cells and cell-delivery biomaterials. We hypothesize that this is largely attributed to unsuitable migration and positioning of transplanted cells, as the migratory processes of donor STLCs out of the sub-retinal space and into host retinal laminae are neither clinically- nor developmentally-defined. Our work develops an experimental model to predict synaptic integration of transplanted cells by using microfluidics and retinal explants to mimic degenerative microenvironments. The model uses combinatory, chemical signals and electric fields to recapitulate the migratory responses and connectivity of STLCs during development and stimulate these desired behaviors in transplantation. Results illustrate that combinatory galvano-chemoattractive fields are able to stimulate three times the infiltration distance than either field, individually, as well as promote tunable, collective cell responses.
Dr. Vazquez is a co-founding member of the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at the City College of New York (CCNY). Her appointment as Assistant Professor was dedicated toward establishing the first BME undergraduate curriculum and Master’s program at a Minority Serving Institution. She later developed the first microfluidics and microfabrication laboratory at CCNY by leveraging her industry and research expertise in the design and manufacture of microsystems. She has been continuously awarded funding for independent research as well as for undergraduate educational initiatives from NIH (Physical Science-Oncology Center, Comprehensive Minority Institution/Cancer Center Partnership), NSF (Nanotechnology Education for Undergraduates, Emergent Behaviors of Intracellular Systems) and AFOSR (Microtechnology and Fabrication for Mechanical Engineers).